Short and Punky

Sad Pygmy bassist/vocalist Carol Sandin and guitarist/vocalist C-Dog are married -- not just to each other, but also to their stubborn conception of the independence and integrity of punk rock. You can hear it in their music, which is a staunchly anti-fashionable mind meld of Clash-inspired first generation punk rock rant and Texas-bred psychedelia. You can also see it in the way they do business: releasing their own records and distributing those of others on their do-it-yourself living room label, Lazy Squid Rekkids. Hell, you could probably see it in the stars -- after all, Sandin and C-Dog were first introduced by a mutual friend at a Butthole Surfers show. "I knew right then," says C-Dog over a beer in the couple's Montrose apartment, "that she was the one for me."

The apartment that is, for the moment anyway, command central for Sad Pygmy is a tidy, two-story place with all the usual accouterments. But in what ought to be a living room, Sandin and C-Dog have built a small cottage industry out of their affection for the punk spirit. There are computers and filing cabinets and mailers and cardboard shipping boxes arranged around the floor -- the tools of Lazy Squid, which has grown since its inception in 1992 to boast a catalog of more than 20 audio and video releases, among them Psychic Intestine, Sad Pygmy's recently released CD, and the noise compilation Cataclastic Fracture, Lazy Squid's best seller to date. Sandin and C-Dog fill orders, they say, from as far away as Taiwan, South America, Switzerland and Canada.

What are the kids in Taiwan, South America, Switzerland and Canada finding worth ordering from a small Montrose apartment in Houston? Something they apparently can't get back home. "Just think about it," says C-Dog, his eyes lighting up. "To be able to contact [these kids] through Maximum Rock & Roll or other magazines that we put stuff in. Or through the underground cassette network. People exchanging catalogs and things like that is a lot more powerful than it seems."

Like many punk rock aggregations, Sad Pygmy itself is the result of just such trading and experimentation and curiosity for curiosity's sake. It's the current, if not necessarily final, incarnation of a rotating universe of earlier bands -- a pedigree that includes the now-defunct Disband and Trailer Trash and past and current side projects such as Rotten Piece, Love Noodles, Turmoil in the Toybox and R-Squared-RPO, an industrial noise collaboration with Baytown's Richard Ramirez.

Carol and C-Dog rose from the ashes of their past bands to form Sad Pygmy, with drummer Bob Lederer, around Halloween of 1991, but since the three couldn't settle on a name, they played anonymously for a month or so before approaching Jesus Lizard singer David Yow following a Vatican performance and asking for his input. He suggested the name Sad Pygmy -- "It sounds like the name of a Butthole Surfers record or something, doesn't it?" says C-Dog -- and it stuck.

Sad Pygmy plowed through three second guitarists before finally settling down as a four-piece, with Phil Krieg fleshing out the lineup (and adding the spooky space noises) on theremine and photo-oscillators. C-Dog writes about half of the songs, with Lederer and Sandin rounding out the other half between them, and the multiple input makes for a certain sense of fracture in the band's sound. At times, Sad Pygmy sounds like a Memorex of old-school British punk; at others, like a noodling stoner band with too many ideas.

C-Dog's explanation for this is simple: "We enjoy a lot of different kinds of music, and we play a lot of different kinds of music, and it makes us tough to pigeonhole. We're not really this punk band, and we're not really a psychedelic band. And the psychedelic stuff does turn some people off when we play to punk crowds."

But that, apparently, has proven to be no reason for the band to stop doing what it does. On Tomato Halo, released two years ago, the album's tunes were segregated between styles -- one track a meandering psycho instrumental about head space, the next a pounding, yelling rant about missing condiments. With last month's release of Psychic Intestine, Sad Pygmy has tried to meld their influences, incorporating a salad of styles in each tune. It's an interesting, if not always entirely convincing, attempt.

"It's still schizophrenic," admits C-Dog, "but it's more our sound. I have a lot of respect for bands that shift gears like that. Carol and I are huge fans of Bongwater, for instance. We like so many different kinds of music we just end up spitting them out."

Expect them to keep spitting. For Sad Pygmy, it's not necessarily about career, though they would like to carve a modest living out of Lazy Squid. And it's not about being popular, either. As Sandin, asked to define punk, quite correctly notes, "All of the pop punk and stuff is all nice and well, but that's not the only thing that's punk rock."

And, adds C-Dog, "We decided a long time ago, we'd just do it, regardless. There's good shows and bad shows. Sometimes you play to 900 people, and sometimes you play to five. That's the business, and it builds character if nothing else. If you can't deal with that, maybe it's not the right thing for you to do.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brad Tyer